The UCLA Bruins sit at 5-2 heading into the bye week.
Are there causes for concern? Yes. Should you be content? Yes. Here’s why: in the last two seasons UCLA had a combined 6 wins heading into the bye week and only 6 wins all together last year. The Bruins are playing very well all things considered. When a new coaching staff takes over there’s usually a 1-2 year grace period before anything substantial is expected, but Jim Mora already has this group playing at a high level.
Let’s not forget he already has a marquee win over Nebraska and had this team ranked in the top-25. The Bruins were the talk of the town for weeks and had several media pundits talking about a 10 win season. Then Oregon State came to town and UCLA lost a very winnable game at home by a touchdown, but here’s why you should be encouraged: the Beavers are still undefeated through 5 games and ranked in the top-10. UCLA then traveled to Boulder, Colorado and manhandled a very weak Colorado team, yet still received criticism from fans after winning by 4 touchdowns.
Ask yourself this, when is the last time UCLA won a conference road game by four touchdowns and still received criticism? To me that’s encouraging, and it only means expectations are once again high in Westwood, as they should be.
Yet UCLA had to blow one right? How about one in Berkeley a place the Bruins have not won in since 1998. There were no positives you could take from that game and for the very first time UCLA’s youth really showed.
Thus far Brett Hundley has shown nothing but promise and has provided tons of excitement for UCLA fans as they think about the future of this program led by him. The best part about what UCLA has been able to do this season is they’re accomplishing all this with youth all over the board. On the offensive side of the ball we have our promising red shirt freshman QB, 3 freshman O-Linemen, and freshman receivers. On the defensive side there’s youth as well; freshman safety Randall Goforth started his first game against Nebraska and played very well, but I can’t forget our two super sophomore’s you should be very excited about: Eric Kendricks and Tevin McDonald.
Jim Mora managed to get everyone to buy in, and you can’t forget the little things he’s done such as not being afraid to sit a senior and play a freshman or hiring a strength and conditioning coach solely for football. Most importantly, he moved Fall camp to San Bernardino which did wonders for team chemistry. Oh yeah, he also switched Anthony Barr to linebacker and that worked out pretty well.
The toughest part of the schedule has yet to come, but I believe everything is in place for UCLA to have a successful season under a first year coach. The question is, what defines success? A successful season in my mind will be 7-8 wins, a bowl berth and a competitive game against our crosstown rivals. All of these things can be accomplished based on what this team has showed thus far, and the ceiling for this season and years to come is very high. The team currently ranks 6th in total offense, and 6th in sacks, both a dramatic improvement from last year. Jim Mora has said and done all the right things, and he’s taken some jabs at Southern Cal and we’ve actually seen results on the field. Mora brings toughness, discipline and accountability to a program which lacked in those areas in recent years. He’s assembled a staff which has done it at the highest level; they bring 98 years of NFL playing and coaching experience, 6 Super Bowl rings and have coached 16 HOF’s.
There is no doubt in my mind UCLA is on the right track to being back in the National picture. Jim Mora just might be the “alarm clock” that awoke this sleeping giant.